Practice Management

Complect wants to make outsourcing compliance easier and more affordable

The online marketplace hopes to connect advice firms with compliance experts

Jul 10, 2018 @ 5:02 pm

By Ryan W. Neal

It's like Angie's List, but for compliance consultants.

That's the elevator pitch for Complect, a technology startup that wants to help connect financial advice practices with compliance and regulatory risk professionals.

On Tuesday, Complect welcomed Kevin Keefe, the former president and CEO of First Allied Services, to its board to help grow the digital compliance marketplace's presence among independent broker-dealers and registered investment advisers.

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Mr. Keefe said he was attracted to Complect's unique approach to regulatory compliance, which utilizes the "gig economy" style of consumer tech companies like Uber, Airbnb and Seamless. Instead of paying a large consultancy a retainer fee, firms confidentially post a compliance project on Complect, such as updating an ADV form or conducting an internal review. They define exactly what kind of expertise they want and set payment expectations.

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The firm can review consultants who apply to select the best one, something that Mr. Keefe said is currently difficult for many firms, which have to rely on either word-of-mouth recommendations or cold-calling legacy consulting firms.

"Independent advisers are used to a more straight-through, current-state technology experience, but the compliance and regulatory side is a traditional, old-school experience," Mr. Keefe said. "There are hundreds of highly qualified regulatory and compliance experts out there. It's really hard for independent advisers to find them and find the right one for the work they need."

Complect charges both the firms posting projects and specialists taking the jobs a 10% fee, which Mr. Keefe said is a better price point than legacy consultants like MarketCounsel or Vigilant Compliance firms charge. He added that most compliance work is one-off projects rather than ongoing exercises, making the freelance approach a natural fit.

Beth Haddock, the CEO and founder of consulting firm Warburton Advisers, called Complect "a great idea" for helping firms learn about consultants outside of their personal network and make a more informed hiring decision.

"Outsourced compliance is gaining in popularity because that model can better fit many smaller firms," Ms. Haddock said in an email. "When one outsources though, whether it's compliance or IT, firms need to make sure their consultants have the judgment and experience to help with the work and then make sure they have access to the right information, so they receive quality advice and help."

Ms. Haddock added that an online marketplace like Complect could change pricing over time by giving firms access to boutique consultants like herself that they otherwise wouldn't know about.

MarketCounsel president and CEO Brian Hamburger said outsourcing specialized functions can give firms a deeper bench of capabilities than they might be able to afford through full-time employees, but disputed the idea that an à la carte approach is the right approach for advisers.

"Any meaningful regulatory compliance advice has to be objective and holistic, not incremental and not transactional," Mr. Hamburger said. "Any solution that attempts to crowdsource an answer relies first on the adviser's ability to frame the issue and ask the right question."

John Mackowiak, chief business development officer at Advyzon, added that even for smaller firms looking reallocate money from compliance expenses,, advisers shouldn't look to completely offload compliance duties.

"It's incredibly important when outsourcing a business functionality like compliance that advisers still keep their finger on the pulse of their day-to-day operations so that in the event that their technology provider no longer meets their needs, they can seamlessly transition their records and keep the business moving forward," Mr. Mackowiak said.

Complect CEO Hanh Nguyen, whose background is primarily in the compliance consulting business, plans to utilize Mr. Keefe's experience and connections in the independent broker-dealer world to organically grow Complect's visibility among advisers.

"Independent advice firms have long known that they need a better way to stay on top of an ever-changing, increasingly complex regulatory environment," Ms. Nguyen said in a statement. "As someone who knows firsthand what independent firms need to thrive, Kevin can help take our message and strategy to new heights."

Advisers going independent, increasing regulation and fee compression are all trends driving interest in outsourced compliance, and Complect is far from the only fintech making a play in the space. For example, Orion Adviser Services made compliance a part of its Fast Track program for breakaway advisers with a partnership with MarketCounsel, and other fintech vendors are developing artificial intelligence to automate compliance workflows.

But Ms. Nguyen doesn't want to compete against technology.

"What [technology] can never replace at the end of the day is human talent," she said. "Technology today can't review or respond to red flags yet."

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